Plastic bags, plates, straws, stir sticks and cutlery have become essentials in grocery stores and takeout orders, but they may be banished from Canada in less than two years.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the country will ban single-use plastics as early as 2021, following similar actions by California, Hawaii and New York.
During a press conference at Quebec’s Gault Nature Reserve, Trudeau spoke from the perspective of a father about the difficulty of explaining to his children the overwhelming presence of plastics in wild animals, human bodies and the depths of the ocean.
“How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches around the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags, or albatross chicks photographed off the coast of Hawaii, their bodies filled to the brim with plastic they’ve mistaken for food?” he asked.
“As parents, we’re at a point where we take our kids to the beach and we have to search out a patch of sand that isn’t littered with straws, styrofoam or bottles. That’s a problem.”
According to the Canadian government, less than 10 percent of the nation’s plastic is recycled and Canadians throw away more than 3 million tons of plastic waste each year. Roughly one-third of Canada’s plastics are either for short-lived packaging and products or single-use.
Globally, humans generated more than 9 billion tons of plastic by 2017, the World Economic Forum estimates. That’s equivalent to 822,000 Eiffel Towers or 25,000 Empire State Buildings.
In addition to cutting back on plastics, Canada plans to work with its provinces and territories to ensure that companies manufacturing or using plastic are held responsible for collecting and recycling their waste.
Trudeau’s plan will echo that of the European Union, which voted in March to impose a sweeping ban on single-use plastics including cutlery, straws, stirrers and cotton buds. It will take effect in 2021.
In April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a ban on single-use plastic bags throughout the state which is set to take effect in March 2020.
In Hawaii, a pair of bills moving through the legislature could make the state the first in the U.S. to outlaw most plastics in restaurants, from styrofoam containers to utensils straws, stirrers and bottles.
In California, legislation has been introduced to phase out single-use plastics such as food containers and other packaging by 2030.